An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory

  As you know if you have been reading previous blogs, prospective memory is the memory to do things. Today I had a breakfast meeting with two important people, one a dean, from the University of Utah. The meeting was set for November 2. I missed the meeting this morning. I had been planning on meeting them tomorrow, not today. I am profoundly mortified by this failure. Moreover, I inconvenienced and wasted the precious time of people I respect.

Do you love irony? How about this fellow who writes blog on memory health, memory errors and how to avoid them, and he forgets such an important meeting. I think it is instructive to examine the reason behind this prospective memory failure and how it could have been avoided. The reason for the failure was that I had mistakenly encoded November 2 as a Tuesday. This morning I was telling my wife about this important breakfast meeting I was going to have tomorrow, Tuesday.

How could this have been avoided? It could have been avoided by taking recourse to transactive memory. Had I written the meeting on a Calendar or entered in in the Outlook Calendar, it would not only have served as a reminder, but it would also have pointed to my error in encoding November 2nd as a Tuesday. Had a asked my wife to remind me of this meeting, a human source of transactive memory, she too would have corrected me of my misconception that November 2nd was a Tuesday.

Now back to the irony. If I know all this stuff, why don’t I use it? This is a very good question. In this case I probably did not think that this meeting warranted a transactive memory entry because it was so important it was inconceivable that I could forget, or in this case, erroneously encode the prospective memory. It is ironic that we often forget those items that we are so sure that we shall remember them. This can lead to carelessness in their storage due to overconfidence.

Generally speaking when I fail to remember when I need to remember, it is usually due to a failure to attend and use the appropriate encoding techniques. Especially important information also needs some form of supplementary storage in transactive memory. So mental laziness is responsible for most of my memory failures. I have no other excuse. I would guess that I am not unique in this regard.


© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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